Satirical Thoughts

Last night’s Saturday Night Live was its usual not that funny self. It was a rerun from November, but I hadn’t seen it the first time. Especially unfunny was a sketch that was supposed to be an infomercial for Dr. Archibald Bitchslap’s marriage counseling method (video). I’ll bet you can guess from the name what the method entails. Here’s how the show’s website describes the sketch:

Our host Samantha Hawkins discusses an exciting new “interactive” way to solve relationship problems. She’s joined by couples Pete and Donna Longhorn, and Debra and Jody Preston.

The Longhorn’s problems stem from Donna’s spending addiction, and the Preston’s problems grew out of Jody’s incessant lying about “working late nights”.

Samantha introduces the man responsible for the revolutionary new technique that solved the couples’ problems, Dr. Archibald Bitchslap, founder of the Bitchslap Method.

Samantha runs a sample of the method demonstrated on the 10-DVD set: a montage of images of Samantha and Dr. Archibald Bitchslap employing the Bitchslap Method forcibly and verbally on a series of compliant mannequins. Dr. Bitchslap mentions that along with the 10-DVD set, you also receive a companion booklet: Bitchslap Your Way to a Successful Marriage.

I’m sure they didn’t mean to make light of domestic violence, but their satire fell flat to the point of being offensive (and I’m not easily offended).

Contrast this with Borat‘s brilliant use of satire to highlight the absurdity of the beliefs of antisemites and misogynists. I know many people were offended by this movie too, but I think it succeeded precisely because Sacha Baron Cohen exaggerated the character and situations to the point of absurdity, which made clear that he was making fun of those beliefs. (The fact that the laughably antisemitic Borat was actually speaking fluent Hebrew instead of Kazakh only added to the satire for me.)

The ultimate example of satire is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Many at the time took his essay seriously due to its serious tone, thinking that he was actually proposing that poor Irish families sell their children to be eaten to raise money for the family. By exaggerating this normally ridiculous idea to the point of even suggesting how the children could be prepared (“I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.”), Swift gets in his real digs at landlords and political economists, exposing the state of the poor in Ireland.

So, what did SNL do wrong? Sadly, the Bitchslap method is used way too often in reality, with no humor involved. This sketch just reinforced the idea that this method works, without mocking who use violence against their partners or using absurdity to make an underlying point. It was just too close to reality for comfort.

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